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Israel's navy seizes 'Humanity' ship off Gaza

Ma'an News

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June 30, 2009

Gaza – Ma’an – Israeli naval forces intercepted and boarded, and took control of a converted ferry bound for Gaza, towing its passengers, crew, and cargo to Israel’s port of Ashdod on Tuesday afternoon.

Activists aboard the ship, dubbed the 'Spirit of Humanity" denounced the action as a violation of international law.

"This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip," said Cynthia McKinney, a former US Congresswoman who was on board, according to a statement relayed through compatriots in Cyprus, where the boat left on Monday.

Free Gaza Movement Organizer Huwaida Arraf said "No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies, and children’s toys. Our passengers include a Nobel peace prize laureate and a former US congressperson.

"Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters," Arraf added.

The Israeli Navy confirmed that its forces seized the ship, claiming that it "contacted the boat while at sea, clarifying that it would not be permitted to enter Gazan coastal waters because of security risks in the area and the existing naval blockade."

"Disregarding all warnings made, the cargo boat entered Gazan coastal waters," the Navy said.

The Navy also said that no shots were fired, and that the crew will be "handed over to the appropriate authorities." It also claimed that the humanitarian goods on board will be transferred to Gaza, "subject to authorization."

According to an earlier statement from the Free Gaza Movement, the Sprit of Humanity ship was intercepted by Israel’s navy 60 kilometers from Gaza early Tuesday. The Israeli warships issued an ultimatum, urging the ship to turn back, though statements from the crew indicate the ship will continue on toward the Strip.

The most recent communication from the ship said "21 more miles and they will be there. Still 'escorted' by two Israeli gun boats."

The ship set sail from the port of Lanarca, Cyprus on Monday after being delayed by Cypriot authorities. The activists planned to arrive in Gaza on Tuesday in what would have been their fourth successful voyage. Two other attempts to break Israel’s naval blockade were thwarted by the navy.

Twenty-one human rights advocates representing 11 different countries are aboard the ship. The passengers include Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire, former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Heddy Epstein.

The converted ferry boat carries three tons of medical aid, children's toys, and rehabilitation and reconstruction kits for twenty family homes.

Israel's military spokesperson unit had no information to release about the ship. Attempts to contact the Israeli Foreign Ministry were unsuccessful.

"This aid is desperately needed by the people of Gaza," said Nobel Laureate Maguire in a statement relayed from on board the ship. "President Obama has called upon the Palestinians to abandon violence but Israel is denying them the right to non-violently resist the siege of Gaza."

At 1:30am, the crew of the ship said, Israeli warships surrounded the boat and threatened to open fire if they did not turn around. They said that when they refused to turn back, the Israeli navy "began jamming their instrumentation, blocking their GPS, radar, and navigation systems."

Responding to this, Congresswoman McKinney declared, according to the statement, "I am extremely angry. We demand that the Israeli government call off their attack dogs. We are unarmed civilians aboard an unarmed boat delivering medical and reconstruction aid to other human beings in Gaza. Why in God's name would Israel want to attack us?"

Another ship was due to arrive in Gaza on 26 June, but the organizers cancelled the trip after Israel threatened to stop all solidarity ships and send them back.


***Updated at 16:49 local time.






:: Article nr. 55587 sent on 30-jun-2009 17:28 ECT

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